Book Review: The Norfolk Mystery by Ian Sansom

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This is one of those books I bought purely because of the title.  I was not familiar with the author and knew nothing of the book prior to seeing it on the shelf at Slightly Foxed during the summer.  However being a Norfolk girl I couldn’t resist.  I have since discovered that my mother in law bought it for exactly the same reason.

The stain of blood shrouding Norfolk on the cover of the book is a fairly clear indication that murder is likely to be involved in this story, and indeed it is.  The story is set in the 1930’s.  Stephen Sefton has just returned from the Spanish Civil war, he is broke and is looking for employment.  The advertisement for a job whose only requirement is intelligence is too good to resist.  And so begins his association with Professor Swanton Morley, (which by the way is the name of a real life village in Norfolk).  Morley is a prolific writer and his requirement is for an assistant to accompany him around Britain as he writes travel guides. He begins his journey in Norfolk but when the Vicar of Blakeney (another real place) is found hanging from his church’s bell rope Sefton and Morley travel plans are stunted as they are drawn into the investigations.

I only finished this book a short while ago but am already struggling to remember what really happened. I suspect that is because I don’t think much did really happen. This isn’t necessarily a criticism because the character of Morley more than makes up for this.

Morley is a character I found equally exasperating and admirable often within the same paragraph. If he isn’t writing he is reading or exercising or learning. It seems there is nothing he does not know. He is constantly improving his mind (admirable) and attempting to improve the minds of others (irritating). His work ethic is incomparable.

‘The elusive waywardness of time, Sefton’ he said mildly, as if in explanation. ‘We must do everything we can to capture it must we not? Not a moment to waste’

He has no concept of relaxing or just ‘being’. Even when travelling in his car he is seated at a desk tapping away on his typewriter, much to the bemusement of Sefton.

‘…daintily climbed into the back seat, whereupon, to my astonishment, Miriam began fitting a wooden desk around him, transforming the rear of the vehicle instantly into a kind of portable office. Miriam then hoisted, seemingly from out of nowhere, a small, lightweight typewriter onto a couple of stays on the desk…’

Despite this being Sefton and Morley’s first trip together, Sefton already has the air of a long suffering partner.

 ‘I glanced at my watch. It wasn’t yet nine o’clock in the morning. It had already been a very long day’

There is definitely more than a whiff of Sherlock and Dr Watson in their relationship. Much to Sefton’s dismay Morley is programmed to only ever tell the truth. Although he is usually oblivious to the feelings of others, he is not a mean character; in fact he is usually quite affable.

 ‘It was his way. One moment he would be tearing you apart…..the next he’d be slapping you on the back and congratulating you on your perspicacity. With Morley it was only ever about the truth. The little niceties seemed not to matter’

The other character of note is Morley’s daughter Miriam. I enjoyed this relationship. She is spirited and clearly frustrated by her father’s pernickety tendencies. He in turn has no time for her predilection for London and parties.

‘you know I don’t hold with these London parties Miriam’,
‘I know that, Father’
I’m just reminding you that’s all.’
‘Repetition is a form of self-plagiarism, I think you’ll find Father.’

 Another lovely thing about this book is the inclusion of pictures and photographs. I felt that they added to it’s whimsical, old fashioned nature.  I am sure this must be just the beginning for Morley and Sefton and I suspect I may not be able to resist reading the next instalment – even if it is set in neighbouring Suffolk.

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